Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Electronic Entertainment in Belize

I recently received an email from my friend Charlie. He said he was sending 20 (TWENTY!!) DVDs, some of which were items from HBO which he is judging for the Emmys. Now Charlie knows a lot about Emmys. See here -

Anyway, he's a great friend from high school and college days, who I recently rediscovered through Facebook (yay!), and it's been wonderful reconnecting via FB and email. Of course, I was overwhelmed and grateful - big time - and excited to know we'd be enjoying some quality entertainment soon. Then I thought this topic about what we have available in the realm of DVDs, TV and music might make a good one for our blog. So here goes.

There are NO legitimate or authentic DVDs here in Belize, at least not that I've been able to find. They are all pirated. Most are made by amateurs who have access to a computer and a little bit of pirating software. One guy we met in the market in Belmopan told us that all his DVDs were originals, that he had his own burner. So what he meant was they were copies of originals. They were being sold 5 for $20 BZD (that's $10 US).

We've bought a few DVDs from various sources. We are often disappointed. Here are a few examples of what we've seen:

  • Volume so low it can barely be heard
  • Aspect ratio bolluxed up so everybody is squashed flat (a real pet peeve of mine, and I see it often with TVs where people want to see a square picture filled out on a rectangle screen.)
  • Sound not synced with the picture. On one movie, the sound was ahead of the picture by about 10 seconds at the beginning. By the end of the show, there was was more than a minute gap from when the sound played the dialog to when the picture showed them speaking it.
  • Videos taken by a camera set up in the movie theater, so you get to see everybody getting up to get popcorn and go to the bathroom. Can hear them laughing.
  • Subtitles for various languages. Since there's never a menu on the DVD, we can't remove them.
  • DVDs that just die in the middle, or worse, near the end of the movie.
Steve and I went without television for a long time here in Belize. But then basketball season came along and I really wanted to see how our Tar Heels played. We bit the bullet and bought a television. We already had cable so we could have internet access. So the TV part was already paid for; we just had to plug it up and go! Now that the NCAA tournament is over, I just watch an occasional Law & Order rerun. But I LOVE movies.

Turns out that many of the shows we see on 125 channels we get for $42BZ/month are also pirated. The local channels - I think there are 5 - often broadcast first run movies. I mean movies that are still in the theaters in the US. They often exhibit the same characteristics as the DVDs I described above.

We also have about 30 premium channels, HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc., all for that same $42 dollars. There's no guide for the channel lineup, and they change numbers frequently, so it's tough to plan for a specific movie or show. 

Below are a few screens that we see as we surf the channel line-up. I don't really understand it, but I think our cable company subscribes to DirecTV, Dish and Sky networks (as an individual??), and then broadcasts the channels out to us. Maybe that's what all cable companies do. All I know is these message aren't anything we can respond to.

DirecTV screen saver

Yes! We have American shows, Mexican, Indian, Nigerian
and Chinese programming!

No or bad signal.
Internet is very expensive - We get 600Kb/second for a monthly fee of $138 BZ. Once we worked through the initial connection kinks, it's been reasonably reliable. No good for YouTube or any streaming video. Belize blocks certain things, too. For instance, no Skyping without a VPN. And Pandora radio won't work without a VPN. Otherwise, we can do most of what we want.

A lot of people play their music from their computers, and they use the dubbing/DJ software so that they play sirens, laser gun, and other sounds over the music. So even if it does happen to be a good song that they're playing at 100 dB, you can't really hear it because of all the special effects that are laid on top of it (at 110 dB).


New Subject!! Our vacation with my dad and stepmother, Joyce. They came for a week to visit. The previous week they spent in Costa Rica, where they went zip lining through the Cloud Forest. This vacation was a little more low key than previous family visits (Dad's 85), but we definitely did some fun things and ATE WELL.  Here are a few pictures from their visit.

Drumming and dancing in Dangriga

Everybody dances
Dad and Joyce with Carla and Des (They are both friends of
mine. They love to do Zumba, too!)
Dad and Joyce doing ballroom dance in the Caribbean Sea
Joyce bought a BIG drum. With Norielee Rodriguez.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Wheels on the Bus

Time marches on, and we have less than 13 months to go in our service here in Dangriga, Belize. The group that arrived a year before we did has now completed its service and most have left. In an effort to get matters "cleaned up" here in PC Belize, there will not be a new group brought in for 2012. Management will decide what will be done with the Peace Corps mission for this country. TOTAL SPECULATION - I think we will be the last group here for a long time. I will be happy to be proved wrong.

In the meantime, we celebrate Peace Corps 50 years in this country. Last year was the 50th anniversary for the Peace Corps organization world-wide. When PC started here it was British Honduras!

It's been awhile since we wrote about anything other than our day-to-day work. Maybe a little write-up on how Belizeans get around would be interesting. There are three main highways in the country. The first is the Western Highway which goes from Belize City to Belmopan City to San Ignatio Town (and a little bit beyond to Benque Village).The Northern Highway goes from Belize City to Orange Walk Town and on to Corozal Town. The third highway is a combination. Hummingbird Highway goes from Belmopan City south toward Dangriga, then branches off to go further south and is called the Southern Highway. It goes all the way to Punta Gorda Town.

Ignore that "Coastal Road" you see in this picture.
It's a death trap. NOBODY drives it except the
bad guys from Belize City trying to escape the police.

The primary form of transportation for Belizeans is the bus. The largest companies make the long runs, along the large highways, and are subsidized by the government. Those companies and how they win the right to make those big runs is highly politicized (surprise!). Last year, one of the companies that had been making the runs up north lost to another company. But the government gave the first company a concession - they could make a few runs west. Problem is, all the bus drivers lived up north, so they would have to travel a hundred miles at 2 in the morning to get to the starting point for the 4 o'clock run.

There are also a LOT of entrepreneurs who run buses in smaller geographic areas. These guys have a nice little niche business going, and a very loyal (well, captive) clientèle. They ALL work very well together. Let's say someone lives in Hopkins Village. The bus there goes to Dangriga twice a day and returns twice a day. If someone wants to go to Belmopan, they have to take the Hopkins bus to Dangriga, and then get on the James bus to Belmopan. Most of the time, as the Hopkins bus is headed into Dangriga, the James bus is leaving, usually two or three miles out of Dangriga when they pass. The James bus stops (pulls over to the LEFT shoulder) nose to nose with the Hopkins bus, and lets all the northern-bound passengers from the Hopkins bus get on. If they didn't do that, the Hopkins people would have to wait an hour at the Dangriga bus station for the next James bus. This easy exchange of passengers happens all over Belize.

We use the James Bus most of the time

There are rules about how many people may ride on a bus, that is, there must be a seat for every passenger. That rule is followed for as long as the bus is in the confines of a bus station with Department of Transportation employees. Here's how it works. The conductor "kinda" counts as people get on, and if there are too many, he tells everybody to squinge up and make room so all can sit. They drive out of the station. As soon as they are out, the extras stand up and hang on. Not only that, the savvy people who could tell that they wouldn't get a seat AT the station go wait at the next corner and get on there. And so forth. Because most of the buses are local, people are constantly getting on and off. I've been on 84-person buses that easily had 150 people on them.

There are other rules. A kid doesn't count as a person for a seat as long as the mom can hold the kid on her lap. I've seen mothers with 4 kids pay one fare. Makes it really tight for the person sharing that seat. Not too many stand up to give their seat to a "lady" or elderly person. Sometimes a pregnant woman will pique someone's pity.

The Belmopan Bus Station

The conductors work hard! Those guys help with bags, babies and kids, and serve as a bouncer on rare occasions. They also collect all the money and hand out receipts. How they keep in their heads who's who is beyond me. They let everybody get on in a town or village, and then head down the aisle to collect - a different amount for everybody, different destinations. They are so helpful to anybody with questions, too.

Last thing I'll say about the buses and the people who drive them, is that they have a great relationship with vendors and individuals, and they do a LOT of favors for people. They'll pick up a bag or box from somebody standing next to the road, maybe in a little village. Then somewhere down the road, who knows how many miles, there will be somebody else standing by the road or waiting nearby. The driver knows where to stop, and somebody comes running out to pick up the package. There's a lady who bakes delicious breads who lives along the Hummingbird Highway. She or one of her kids gets on the bus going south every afternoon carrying a large tupperware container of bread. We always buy at least two loaves. She sells the bread to those on the bus for about 10 or 12 miles, then gets off. Catches the next bus north and sells bread till she gets back to her house. I think she makes at least a couple runs each day. She's putting her kids through school that way. She's the one I know the most about, but I'm pretty sure that other people take advantage of the retail opportunities on other buses.

Things I don't like too much:

  • Very few of the buses have air conditioning (only the express buses - no locals). It's AWFUL to be on a bus when it's raining. They close all windows, and it becomes a steam bath. Arghhh.
  • Getting on the bus at a station is pandemonium. Everybody shoves and stomps their way forward like they never learned about standing in a line and being polite and civilized about taking turns. I'd much rather go out to the corner to catch the bus.
OK, like most of the time when I get on these long drawn-out descriptions, I fear I've included TOO many details. How can I possibly tell you all the cool stuff? Sorry if you're snoozin'.

Next time we'll have pictures and stories of our vacation with my dad and stepmother. They are here to visit for a week, and we are doing the easy life thing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers Day in Belize

This is my second Mothers Day away from home. They celebrate Mothers Day here, same as in the States. I had a wonderful phone call with Jeff this morning. The rest of the day has been very low key. I'm nursing some gastric "unrest" and some bug bite blues, so I haven't been very active. A little bit of painting, and a WHOLE LOT of Law & Order SVU. They're having the "Mother of all Marathons" with mother-themed stories - HOURS of them!

So the whole work week was a little bit like today. Very low key. EXCEPT

  • We passed our halfway point! As of May 3, we have been here 406 days, and we have 405 to go!
  • There was a murder very close to our house on Thursday night. Like a "professional" hit with seven shots in this one guy. They drove up, jumped out of the car, shot the guy and drove away. I was standing right next door to where it happened less than five minutes before. Thankfully, this is not typical of Dangriga (not that we don't have a knifing or rape now and again). Generally it's a pretty peaceful town.  Here's a link to the story. Enjoy the Kriol!    http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/70289    AND here  http://www.lovefm.com/local_news.php?item=230
  • I finished the first chapter for the CHW training manual - THREE DAYS EARLY.
Those were the highlights. Steve and I also went over to Hopkins for the grand opening of the Sandy Beach Restaurant yesterday. It's going to be a success, I'm sure. They'll really get going when they get their liquor license!

Sorry, that's all there is. Here are some pictures:

These are some that I painted for the restaurant.

Young Garifuna girl - about 9"X9"

Garifuna drummer - about 5"X4"
These were taken yesterday at the grand opening of the restaurant.

Steve in the kitchen at Sandy Beach

Miss Marlene, one of the ladies who run the restaurant. She is a
VERY good cook.

Meghan was the Jill of all Trades - bartender, money manager,
sign maker

Here's one of the signs she made

Steve put up one of the pictures I made - on the women's bathroom

And on the men's bathroom

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Steve is Helping Underfed and Malnourished Children

Steve here:

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Red Bank village about 45 minutes south of here. I went with my work partner, Tylon, who is a social worker leading the child nutrition project for our district. We pulled up benches and plastic chairs in the shade of the health post and had a wonderful audience of about thirty mothers and at least that many children. We talked about the nutritional benefits of Incaparina for children, especially during the first two years of life. We also worked with the visiting nurse who talked to the mothers about food preparation for children after weaning.

Community Health Worker is teaching mothers about weaning to
solid food. Mothers in Belize are encouraged to use breast feeding
for at least six months after birth.
We had cookies made from Incaparina to give away at the end of the session, and they were a really big hit. The mothers were hesitant to try the cookies until they saw how popular they were with their kids. We were also able to convince the mothers that the food supplement provided by the nutrition project was a good thing, and we convinced them to accept samples to use in their cooking at home. It wasn't an automatic sell. Just as with the cookies, the moms didn't jump to take the Incaparina. So I stepped up to someone and said, "Would you like to take it home and try it?" She took it, and then others joined in. they all took one, then came back for more. "I have a sister. Maybe I could take one to her." "My neighbor could not come today, but I will take one to her." Some of the mothers took four packages. So we're confident that the program got off to a good start.

On Saturday I was invited to a work project in Hopkins village where a fellow volunteer is assisting a co-op of women to prepare the Sandy Beach Restaurant for re-opening. The women cooked a sit-down lunch for all of us. The meal tells me that the restaurant should do well.

I got to do some woodworking and use my tools! I helped one of their children attach a new brace to a broken picnic table, and I cut boards and helped the ladies put a new top on the table. One of the best parts was getting to speak Garifuna with the women who were all good and patient teachers. 

This is Cathy here with my two-cents worth:

I spent the week at my computer working on the CHW manual. If I do this a lot, that's gonna be a sure-fire way to a BIG BUTT. I make myself get up every hour or so, but it's not enough! My brain gets pretty fried. OK, I'm through with the whining.

One thing I did for fun, was create some paintings for the Sandy Beach Restaurant. They are meant to be crude, rustic looking. I used rough cut board, and put latex wall paint as a background. Then used poster paint to paint in the simple pictures.  Here are a couple. More on the way.

This one will get trimmed and put on the door
of the women's bathroom

Garifuna woman clapping
Last blog entry, I mentioned that my Zumba class is doing well. Mondays we have more than 20, and we dance outside in the school yard. Thursday nights, there are fewer so we can workout/dance inside. Ava took some pictures of our last session. They are a fun bunch - really get into it.